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H2H: Which driver is the biggest early surprise outside the top 10?

As with most statistical analyses during the NASCAR season stoppage, the qualification here is that it’s early. Just four Cup Series races are in the books and the points standings are still in the formative stages before the 2020 season’s story is full told.

The standings remain static as well, and some of the names jumbled outside the top 10 are striking with some postseason best bets among them. The balance of a 36-race season means plenty of time to rebound, but for this year’s favorites, it’s still an unlikely early perch.

MORE: 2020 Cup Series standings

NASCAR.com’s Terrin Waack and Zack Albert offer their observations for the driver who stands as the biggest surprise outside the Cup Series top 10 thus far.

WAACK: Big fan of addressing the elephant in the room. So, elephant, meet Kyle Busch, the reigning champion who’s ranked 12th in the standings. At this point last year, Busch already had a winner’s sticker on his car.

A less-than-deal start to the 2020 season has put the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in a hole. Despite leading 14 laps, Busch finished 34th in the opening Daytona 500 thanks to engine issues. That put him 25th in the standings. Then, a 15th-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was better but still knocked him two spots.

It wasn’t until Auto Club Speedway that NASCAR saw a much more familiar “Rowdy.” Though he didn’t win, Busch did finish second and jumped to 19th. Busch followed that performance up with a third-place showing at Phoenix Raceway, which brought him to his current 12th holding slot.

OK, it wouldn’t be fair to not address the other elephant. Look at Busch’s 2015 record, when he missed the first 11 races due to injuries yet went on to win his first title. He was ranked 41st when he returned to competition. If anyone can overcome a points deficit, the “Candy Man” can.

H2H: Which driver is the biggest surprise in the top 10 of the standings?

ALBERT: With a knowing nod to Kyle Busch (and teammate Martin Truex Jr., for that matter), another sizable head-scratcher sits a bit further down the stack. No. 24 in your program, 22 on the age clock and 19th in the series standings: William Byron.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver became a trendy preseason breakthrough pick based on his steady 2019 season, an experience-builder where he began to click with veteran crew chief Chad Knaus. The start to the 2020 campaign has been far less steady, starting with an early crash in the season-opening Daytona 500 and a last-place finish that mired him at a significant points deficit.

Results since then haven’t been much better. Byron lined up second for the final restart at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but contact and a tire rub sank him to a 22nd-place finish. He registered his only lap in the lead at Auto Club Speedway, but managed no better than 15th. He survived a wall scrape at Phoenix Raceway to squeak out his only top 10 — a 10th.

On the positive side, Byron’s roughly mid-pack stature is based on a small sample size of races. Reasons also abound for optimism: The strong performance of his teammates and what’s so far been a modest resurgence for Hendrick Motorsports, easily the season’s most improved organization so far, suggest Byron won’t be down for long.